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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: For medical use, adult cells trump embryonic
“Adult stem cells said to ‘forget’ retooling” (Nation, Tuesday) was a misleading headline, and the accompanying article also was misleading because the headline and article promote the view that the marvelous treatments and cures many are enjoying from adult stem cells are invalid.
For example, it was reported recently that 95 of 106 people treated for blindness from burned corneas had their sight restored using adult stem cells from their own eyes.
Since stem cells were discovered 12 years ago, billions of dollars have been spent on them by thousands of researchers the world over. Despite all this, there have been no “miracle cures” using embryonic stem cells, and it is highly unlikely there will be in the next decade, if ever.
But since induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, the subject of the article, were discovered in 2007, progress has been rapid. Critics initially said these would be of little value because the reprogramming from skin cells to embryonic-like cells used a cancer-causing virus as a catalyst. That problem was solved some time ago, and there have been tremendous improvements to the reprogramming process.
In fact, James Thomson, who discovered human embryonic stem cells, has switched all his research to iPS cells because they “are most likely to revolutionize medicine by allowing scientists to watch diseases unfold at the cellular level; and by allowing pharmaceutical companies to test thousands of drugs against sick or damaged cells in a laboratory dish.”
That iPS cells retain some of their origin is scientifically both an advantage and a disadvantage. When the origin is eliminated in the reprogramming process, iPS cells will be superior in yet another way to embryonic stem cells.
Silver Spring, Md.
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